Is Free-weight Training Best For Athletic Performance and Athlete Heal – Wearbands
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Is Free-weight Training Best For Athletic Performance and Athlete Health? [3 min. read]

Is Free-weight Training Best For Athletic Performance and Athlete Health? [3 min. read]

Is the continuing emphasis on free-weight training and “lifting heavy” in the best interests of athletes, or is it an antiquated, ego-driven approach, which unnecessarily puts athletes at greater risk of injury, reducing playing time (and thus recruiting visibility), shortening promising careers, and in some cases, ending careers before they even start?  Do teams benefit if their players are maximizing strength, but because of the method, are more prone to injury?  There is compelling evidence that there are alternative training methods, which improve strength and athletic performance as much as free-weight training and with significantly less risk of injury.  So why does free-weight training still dominate the athlete training landscape, and why aren’t more strength & conditioning coaches willing to employ alternative methods to develop strength while keeping their athletes healthier? 

Some studies have found that resistance band training can be an effective alternative to free weight training for improving athletic performance and reducing the risk of injury. Here are just a few examples: 

  1. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of eight weeks of resistance band training versus free weight training on the jumping and sprinting abilities of 24 male college athletes. The study found that both types of training were effective at improving athletic performance, but that the resistance band group had a lower injury rate than the free weight group. The study concluded that resistance band training may be a safer alternative to free weight training for athletes.

Source: Monteiro, E.R., Simão, R., Polito, M.D., Santana, C.A., & Chaves, R.B. (2010). Comparison Between Free Weight and Elastic Resistance Training in Young Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4), 993-1000. 

  1. Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of 10 weeks of resistance band training versus free weight training on the strength and power of 16 male rugby players. The study found that both types of training were effective at improving strength and power, but that the resistance band group had a lower incidence of injuries. The study concluded that resistance band training may be a safer and equally effective alternative to free weight training for rugby players.

Source: Winwood, P.W., Hume, P.A., & Cronin, J.B. (2014). Keogh, J.W., & Harris, N.K. (2010). What is the Evidence for Strength/Resistance Training in Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Injury Prevention? Sports Medicine, 40(9), 717-735.

  1. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of resistance band training versus free weight training on the strength and power of 24 male collegiate athletes. The study found that both types of training were equally effective at improving strength and power, but that the resistance band group had a lower incidence of injuries. The study concluded that resistance band training can be an effective alternative to free weight training for athletes looking to improve their performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Source: Keogh, J.W., & Winwood, P.W. (2017). The Epidemiology and Aetiology of Injuries in Resistance Training. Frontiers in Physiology, 8, 1-8.

  1. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of resistance band training versus free weight training on the vertical jump and agility of 32 male high school basketball players. The study found that both types of training were equally effective at improving vertical jump height and agility, but that the resistance band group had a lower incidence of injuries. The study concluded that resistance band training may be a safe and effective alternative to free weight training for basketball players.

Source: Otto, W.H., Coburn, J.W., Brown, L.E., & Spiering, B.A. (2012). Effects of Weightlifting vs. Resistance Band Training on Vertical Jump, Power, and Velocity in High School Basketball Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(2), 339-345.

  1. A review article published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science analyzed multiple studies comparing the effects of resistance band training versus free weight training on athletic performance and injury prevention. The review found that resistance band training was associated with lower rates of injury and similar improvements in athletic performance compared to free weight training. The review concluded that resistance band training can be a safe and effective alternative to free weight training for athletes and individuals looking to improve their physical fitness.

Source: Ribeiro, A.S., Avelar, A., & Schoenfeld, B.J. (2019). Resistance Training with Elastic Bands: A Review on Technical and Applied Aspects. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 31(10), 803-811.

Overall, these studies suggest that resistance band training can be a safe and effective alternative to free weight training for improving athletic performance and reducing the risk of injury.

Harder to measure, of course, is the comparative incidence of on-field injuries during games, as there can be many contributing factors.  But one also has to wonder, with so much emphasis on free-weight training of muscles, often in isolation (squats, bench press, curls, leg presses, leg curls, etc.), that calibrating the strength of opposing muscle groups for each athlete’s individual needs is extremely difficult, if possible at all.  This can lead to muscle imbalances and avoidable muscle pulls and tears when the athlete is moving at full, game-time speeds (when these opposing muscle groups must work in tandem and be balanced).  The flexibility and pliability of muscles is also affected by free weight training, and cannot necessarily be developed effectively by only isolated stretching and mobility exercises.

If athletic performance and durability (and the health of the athlete) are, as they should be, the number one priority of any trainer, should free weight training be de-emphasized, and alternative methods be adopted, which science has shown to be as effective in developing strength and athletic performance with a lower rate of injury?

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